I find it fascinating to witness this massive shift from real time connection to an almost synthetic, technological one. Our phones have become an extension of ourselves, we spend most of our life “plugged” in, connecting to others and building our digital profiles; tailoring them to complete precision. I’m curious about how this affects our brain, I wonder what consequences this new behaviour will have on humanity? What is this future going to look like? How might this change our psychological make-up?
Like pretty much everyone else my age, a lot of my ‘in between time’ is spent scrolling mindlessly through social media. I love looking through other people’s photos and seeing who liked mine, it’s a great indulgent and I’m essentially addicted to it. But just like any indulgent, chocolate cake or social media, it's usually better for me to consume in moderation. Yet unlike chocolate cake, the consequences of over-indulging in social media are not immediately evident. However, I’ve begun to notice how easy it is to feel disconnected from reality when I skim through beautiful image after beautiful image of friends and strangers leading the most perfect, enviable lives. According to social media everyone is happy and living the best life. Of course no one wants to post pictures of their boring dead-end jobs or a selfie when they look miserable, but sometimes I forget that these normal aspects of daily life are still happening, they’re just not reported.
While walking to work the other day, I called a friend. She was venting to me about a job she feels incapable of doing. She tells me she’s worried she’ll be fired and forced to move back home, giving up her perfect apartment that she only just got the lease on.
I also get messages on Facebook from my friend who’s breaking up with her boyfriend; a guy she moved to Sydney for and is on a partnership visa with. She built her life around him and now it’s all falling apart.
And then there is my flatmate, whom I always find sitting alone on our balcony. She has Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, stage 4, “there are no more stages” she tells me. She will be going through radiation. I can’t find the words to comfort her, I can’t fully wrap my head around the very concept of it.
These are just the varying degrees of life – the nuisances, insecurities, heartbreaks and downright tragedies. We all have them, we all endure them. They are just a few examples of the people in my life and the issues they find themselves in. The naked, bare truth. It’s just a small snapshot of life behind closed doors, behind Instagram filters. Unless you have reached an impermeable sense of spiritual enlightenment, it might be true that you also find yourself struggling at times. Maybe you are right at this very minute. Perhaps you’re caring about things you know you shouldn’t, or attaching yourself to people who don’t deserve it, or maybe you’re fighting through a debilitating mental or physical illness. We are all constantly adapting to life’s new circumstance of events and being forced to improvise on the spot.
It makes me wonder what is actually going on in the worlds of people I cross paths with, from colleagues to strangers on the street, I wonder what their current struggle is? How do they find the motivation to pull themselves through tragic times? I wonder what goes on behind the screens of what seems like a perfect life according to their social media posts?
The other night I found myself feeling inconsolable for the first time in a long time. This sadness was sparked from the death of a complete stranger. I was on my way to meet my friends when I noticed a crew of reporters waiting outside a high-rise building. I thought they were filming a movie so I cheerfully asked one the reporters, “what’s happening?” the reporter turned to me and responded flatly , “a guy fell 16 floors and died, we’re trying to get an interview from someone who lives inside.” I was horrified. I watched as a couple tried to leave their apartment while the news reporters immediately jumped on them for answers. It felt like a scene out of a movie. I quickly walked away and felt my mind pulling me to this tragedy, trying to imagine how it happened. By the time I got home later that evening, I researched the incident online. He was only 18 years old, a British guy on his Working Holiday Visa. My heart broke as I read that article. I felt so deeply sorry for the family who just learned that their son had died completely by accident. Just like that, he was gone. It reminded me of the fragility of life and brought me back to that cold morning on October 13th when my Dad told me Elizabeth had died.
While I laid in my bed, swarmed and overwhelmed in depressing thoughts, I reached for my phone and opened social media to distract myself. But while I took in these images of my friends and their happy, perfect and joyful lives, it only made me feel even more alienated and awful; like I was the only one in the world suffering.
I heard my phone buzz and got a message from my friend, she was dealing with her own hardships and needed an outlet to cry. “I just wanna take away this pain, cut it out and lock it up somewhere far away” she told me, I felt it too. After telling her that I had a horrible night myself she apologized for bringing her problem to me when I had my own issues. I was grateful, I told her. There was no filter to her emotions, she was just raw and vulnerable and real. It made me feel less alone.
Life is not always as joyous as our social media profiles may make it seem. And although this is obviously not a new realization, I do think it’s easy to forget that people are struggling when we’re constantly bombarded with images of the opposite.
So if you find yourself feeling completely alone in your misery right now, I’m here to remind you that you aren’t alone. I’m right there with you. That picture on Instagram or Facebook is only the tip of the iceberg, there is much more going on behind the scenes.
BY KIMBERLY HETHERINGTON
Kimberly writes a beautiful blog called Dear Elizabeth, an ongoing virtual letter to her big sister Elizabeth who died in October 2013. You can read more at https://eclecticwave.wordpress.com/
Kimberly is a part of our new team 'The Free-Thinkers'. Planting seeds for thought, discussion and change - it all starts with thought....